There’s a lot of music out there. To help you cut through all the noise, every week The A.V. Club is rounding up A-Sides, five recent releases we think are worth your time. You can listen to these and more on our Spotify playlist, and if you like what you hear, we encourage you to purchase featured artists’ music directly at the links provided below. Unless otherwise noted, all releases are now available.
To read our featured review of the new St. Vincent album, Daddy’s Home, click here.
HEALTH and Nine Inch Nails, “Isn’t Everyone”
Trent Reznor may have his hands full with Oscars these days (again), but when others come beckoning with sufficiently enticing material, it seems he’s still up for hauling out the Nine Inch Nails persona and doing some fucking great collaborations. “Isn’t Everyone,” the new joint release from HEALTH and the long-running experimental industrial act, sounds for all the world like a long-lost cut off The Downward Spiral. Which is to say, it’s dark, punishing, and full of the barbed lyrics and thrumming aggro beats that made Reznor’s band so superb in the first place. He’s still pretty sure you’re going to get what you deserve—given the “we get the world we all deserve” line here—but it’s paired with the sorts of hot fire he used to throw when he was still getting threatened with being kicked out of conservative Southern towns on tour. “I’m gonna watch you drown / I will light the match that burns it all down” is practically an Ur-Reznor lyric from days of old; hearing it back again is as invigorating as ever, especially with HEALTH’s roiling synth churns. If this is Nine Inch Nails circa now, it hasn’t missed a beat. [Alex McLevy]
NCT Dream, Hot Sauce
Nostalgia is a potent emotion, and it’s integral to NCT Dream. Hot Sauce marks the first time the group has released an album as a seven-piece since 2018—and they had a lot to live up to. Happily, the K-pop act delivers, with new music that captures the familiar spirit fans love while also showcasing their sonic growth. “Hot Sauce,” the fiery lead single, features a blend of afrobeat and a dash of trademark NCT noise, complete with gang vocals. The group keeps that momentum going, with high octane tracks like “Countdown (3, 2, 1)” and “Diggity.” Slower tracks like “Rainbow,” “Dive Into You,” and “Be There For You,” with their smooth and dreamy (no pun intended) verses, serve as a reminder that yes, NCT Dream is made up of singers who can sing. Standout tracks “ANL” and “Irreplaceable” bottle the undiluted vibes of a post-pandemic summer you haven’t experienced yet; the latter in particular, with its Motown beat and catchy chorus, is funky as hell, transporting listeners to a backyard barbecue or a breezy rooftop hangout on a sunny day. [Shanicka Anderson]
Sophia Kennedy, Monsters
Plenty of artists combine retro melodies with post-postmodern electronic flourishes, but few do it with the theatricality and wit of Sophia Kennedy. Kennedy’s nostalgic song style of choice is Tin Pan Alley schmaltz, onto which she knowingly piles layers of spiky, deconstructed beats and euphoric, droning atmosphere. Somehow, it works, splitting the difference between cabaret belters and radio-ready electro-pop for a sound that uses familiar elements in a way you’ve never heard before. She tinkers with this formula throughout Monsters, but “Orange Tic Tac” may be the Platonic ideal of a Sophia Kennedy song, a Lawrence Welk tune with a sinister trap underbelly. “Seventeen” is up there, too, harnessing the all-American obsession with youth and adorning with with chirping synthesizers like so many crickets on a hot summer’s afternoon. [Katie Rife]
Current Joys, Voyager
Voyager, the newest album from Current Joys, a.k.a. L.A.-based musician Nick Rattigan, is nothing if not alive. As opposed to the almost somnambulant beauty that defined his last album, A Different Age, here the embrace of new wave Brit-pop akin to Echo & The Bunnymen—or even an anxious, agnate Phoebe Bridgers (as on opener “Dancer in The Dark”)—makes for a thrillingly rich evolution of his sound. It’s far from a total transformation: Beautiful tracks like “American Honey” and “Rebecca” retain the stately grace that makes his work so affecting, a slower-paced Americana majesty to balance the newfound urgency of the more explosive songs. But through it all, Rattigan’s open-wound vocals unite the music, whether he’s confessing to the purest of insecurities on “Naked” (“I wish I could burn, but I’m already in hell”) or evoking existential fears with laser accuracy on “Money Making Machine” (“I’m just a money making machine, and that I’ll be until l die / And it’s so violent, it’s so violent, it’s so violent every time”). The combination of raw earnestness and fierce compassion is electric, making for a record that earns its place alongside feel-bad greats like Unknown Pleasures or Pink Moon. [Alex McLevy]
Kississippi, “Big Dipper”
Kississippi first gave a glimpse of upcoming album Mood Ring last year with “Around Your Room,” an excellent pop song that hinted at an “inverse Folklore”—an indie approach to a Taylor Swift-like sound. The latest Kississippi single “Big Dipper” continues to delve into pop territory, but it’s a more solemn, dreamy song about outgrowing a relationship, but being afraid of change. The lyrics throw back to 2018’s “Easier To Love” off Sunset Blush, as Zoe Reynolds tells her former partner, “I know it ain’t easy to love me.” Going pop might seem like a surprising approach for an act with emo roots, but combining raw, personal, lyrics with extremely catchy pop beats suits Kississippi well, turning Mood Ring into a top contender for most exciting pop record of the year. [Tatiana Tenreyro]